Out of Tokyo

227: Quakes and Arts II
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: June 16, 2011

One month and eleven days after the earthquake, on 4.22 I moderated a talk show at Espace Louis-Vuitton Tokyo. Talk guests were Hasegawa Yuko, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Kitano Keisuke, professor at the College of Image Arts and Sciences, Ritsumeikan University; architect Tsukamoto Yoshiharu (Atelier Bow-Wow); and artist Hachiya Kazuhiko, all of which – including myself – were selected by Hasegawa. The event was rather vaguely titled "On the present state of art", but considering the timing and lineup of guests, it was quite clear that the conversation wouldn't come to a similarly vague conclusion. It was in fact a truly exciting chat that I would like to sum up at this occasion.


From left: Ozaki, Tsukamoto, Hachiya, Kitano, Hasegawa. The screen on the right shows the painting "Guernica". (Photo courtesy of Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo) | REALTOKYO
From left: Ozaki, Tsukamoto, Hachiya, Kitano, Hasegawa. The screen on the right shows the painting "Guernica". (Photo courtesy of Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo)

Hasegawa, an expert in contemporary art, showed Picasso’s "Guernica", and works by Kiefer, Haacke, Boltanski, Warhol, Murakami and Yanobe. All of them were related to accidents, disasters, or various idiocies committed by mankind, and themed around such ideas as recollection, memorial or reincarnation. Film specialist Kitano, while paying homage to Miyazawa Kenji and other literature from the Tohoku region, talked about the "dignity and beauty" he sensed from the footage of people walking around the areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. While both Hasegawa’s and Kitano’s contributions were emotionally touching, I found Hachiya’s and Tsukamoto’s concrete suggestions and proposals particularly stimulating.


Hachiya, known for such media art works as "Inter Dis-Communication Machine", introduced his idea and action after 3.11, thinking that he "wouldn't be able to do anything as an artist at the moment," but instead reflecting on the situation "as a father and as someone who originally comes from the field of science." In order to calm down the worries of his child and wife, he eventually came up with an "explanation likening the effects of nuclear energy to farts and poo", published via Twitter. In his tweet on 3.15, following the hydrogen explosions on 3.12 and 3.14, Hachiya called the nuclear power plant "Nuclear Boy", likened the minuscule quantities of radiation in the air among others to "the smell of a fart", and the dangerous radioactive substances leaking after a core meltdown to "poo" ( The story was then made into an animated movie illustrating "Nuclear Boy’s flatulence", which was uploaded to YouTube. The Japanese version got over a million hits in no time, and the movie was subsequently translated into seven languages including English, French and Chinese.


I learned about the movie on 3.17 in the morning, and posted the following comment on the YouTube website: "I think it’s an easy-to-understand explanation of what’s going on in the country right now. However, I also think that the metaphor of 'poo' is perhaps not such a good choice, as egestion is a biologically necessary procedure. Above that, our government had promised that 'no poo would be excreted.' I believe the fundamental imbecility of building nuclear power plants on an earthquake-prone archipelago should be pointed out as well." While my view in this respect hasn't changed, I only learned in this talk show that Hachiya was in fact not involved at all in the making of the movie. Nonetheless, he said he accepted responsibility for giving his blessing. YouTube is an universally accessible medium, and more than ten thousand people are following Hachiya on Twitter. The question is how the piece he wrote at a date as early as 3.15 "for kids and wife" has to be evaluated.


Hachiya tweeted also about health hazard through radiation, proposing "safety measures from a father’s perspective" in straight and honest language illustrating his explicitly "personal views" on evacuation and possible damage that even experts (or perhaps especially experts) are unable to predict with certainty. "When small children and pregnant women are around, as a father I would recommend to evacuate as soon as 3μSv/h are measured for three days in a row, […] on the other hand, I could live myself with 7μSv/h for a week if I had to for business-related reasons, but if it’s longer than that I'd think about evacuating." (4.8. All tweets are collected here: The point is that Hachiya clearly states "I" and "myself" here, which he also stressed in the talk session.


Himeji Castle | REALTOKYO
Himeji Castle (Photo courtesy of Tsukamoto Yoshiharu Lab., Tokyo Institute of Technology + Atelier Bow-Wow; quoted from "Nihon kenchikushi kiso shiryo shusei 14 Jokaku 1" published by Chuokoron Bijutsushuppan)

Tsukamoto Yoshiharu, from an architect’s point of view, presented a "Resurrection Plan". The plan was first unveiled at the "Pechakucha Night" event a week earlier, and while it seems at first sight like a pretty outrageous idea, it is in fact an absolutely convincing plan.


Tsukamoto read Terada Torahiko’s "Tsunami to ningen" (1933), and modeled his plan around the following two basic ideas. 1) "Respecting the will of disaster victims who want to continue to live where they used to live." 2) "Taking measures to prevent people from forgetting about damage caused by tsunamis, which they tend to do very easily." His next thought was that "such a 'once-in-a-thousand-years disaster' suggests looking at 'world heritages' for reference." The first two that came to mind were Dubrovnik, a port city on the Adriatic Sea, and Himeji Castle with its 15-meter stone walls. The latter is strong and high enough to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis, and could as well be built right by the sea with fishery facilities stored inside the stone walls. Schools, offices and housing units could be installed in the upper floors, while the castle tower could serve as an observation platform.


Plan of Himeji Castl. | REALTOKYO
Plan of Himeji Castl.

Not just one but multiple castles would have to be built. Each municipality could have its own, whereas in any case they will have to be connected by bridges with roads and shops, comparable to the Ponte Vecchio. These can become tourist spots just like the castles' towers, and whenever people ask some decades later why in the world such places have been built, they will remember the disasters that once occurred. Building mountain cities modeled after Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, could be another option. In that case, the "mountains" could be made using garbage and debris. Decommissioned reactors will ultimately have to be contained in a mixture of debris and concrete. Making them the shapes of "pyramids" could at once make the mountains popular tourist attractions.


Ponte Vecchio | REALTOKYO
Ponte Vecchio (Photo quoted from <>)
Potala Palace | REALTOKYO
Potala Palace (Photo quoted from <>)
Master plan with multiple connected "castles" | REALTOKYO
Master plan with multiple connected "castles"
Pyramids | REALTOKYO
Pyramids (Photo quoted from <>)
Fukushima Pyramid | REALTOKYO
Fukushima Pyramid

Tsukamoto collected facts on the subject, analyzed them, found fundamental and essential reference cases, and then applied them to the subject – a logical path that every capable artist or strategist will definitely be able to follow, and I think Tsukamoto did a fabulous job outlining his plan so accurately in a short period of time. I would definitely like to see the plan materialize, and I do hope other architects will jump on the bandwagon and come up with other plans. That’s because these are things that not artists but architects "can do at the moment".


The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant (Hamaoka NPP) has been temporarily closed down, but the "struggle" of the victims, and of (more or less) all other people in Japan, is going to continue for a long time. It will be necessary for each of us to define and implement our own measures, from our own positions, and within our own capabilities. It seemed to me that this simple necessity is exactly what the four guests highlighted in this talk show.


(May 14, 2011)

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO